Marnie Shure is deputy managing editor at The Onion, the satirical website that describes itself as “America’s Finest News Source.” In this interview, conducted by email, she discusses her role at The Onion and how editing and headline writing work there.
Q. Describe your job. What is your typical workday like?
A. A typical workday actually starts around 7 a.m. In addition to being the deputy managing editor, I’m also the features editor, covering small content types; this means I have to find news topics early in the morning for the writers to comment on throughout the day.
Later, at the office, we typically have between one and three different meetings in a day, targeting certain editorial objectives like slating a future issue or responding quickly to a developing news story. In between, I am assembling features, communicating with freelancers, looking over content schedules and generally just shepherding things through the various stages of production.
I also occasionally still copyedit stories when I can, which is a delight all its own.
Q. How do writers and editors at The Onion come up with ideas for stories and “report” them?
A. Every writer has their own methods of generating story ideas to bring to the table, but of course keeping an eye on real news trends and developments is a huge part of that.
From there, the process is incredibly collaborative: Headlines are read aloud in a meeting and voted upon, and selected stories are brainstormed as a group. Drafts are written, rewritten, edited and edited again.
All told, each piece of content goes through about six different rounds of review. But it has to begin with a headline that could just as easily stand on its own, without text. If the headline cannot be fully understood without further elaboration, then the headline isn’t strong enough to be selected in the first place.
Q. How do story editing and headline writing work at The Onion?
A. Story editing is also a group effort, in that no single person’s preferences are shaping the finished product. Each sentence is scrutinized for joke opportunities and infused with as much satire as can be stuffed into it.
At the same time, though, nothing can read too much like a joke is being made; it should sound natural, businesslike, and newsworthy, no matter the topic. It’s this particular aspect of the voice that makes it hard to master: It can never sound as though anyone but a journalist is writing it.
Q. Working at The Onion sounds like fun. What advice do you have for people interested in jobs there?
A. Working at The Onion is certainly very fun, provided you are an obsessed freak like me!
Within the editorial realm, a borderline unhealthy fandom for America’s Finest News Source (coupled with a workhorse mentality and gluttony for punishment) outweighs the most esteemed journalism degree. I’ve never been around people who work so hard in my life.
So I guess the answer is, find it fun to work very hard at this one particular thing. I’m not good with advice.